The more research that you can do into a particular factor of horse racing usually means that somewhere along the line you will discover a breakthrough.

For example, let's say you are looking at last-start winners. How do they go next start? You will find that some go well, others flop, and that overall, if you were to back them all, you would end up... well, broke.

But if you dig deeper you will find ways and means of eliminating many of these last-start winners. You are likely to find 'patterns' developing, both positive and negative. Eventually, you will have a good idea when a last-start winner is more than likely to repeat that win in what kind of race, carrying what weight and at which track and over which type of distance.

It all takes time, of course (though a computer programmed to help out is a boon!). Recently, I've been studying some English research. This concerned the performances of race favs on UK tracks.

Now, while we cannot accept the UK findings for Australia, we can, at least, learn something from what was discovered over there. We can then apply the thinking to our own favourites to determine if the same patterns apply here.

The UK research, in the Raceform Update newspaper, was into the fitness level of favourites. Investigator Philip Alexander wrote: 'With one eye on the future, it was decided that there was no finer place to start an analysis dealing with the fitness of market leaders than by taking a look at those clear favourites which were returning to racing within seven days, irrespective of placing last time out, for the complete 1994 Flat racing season.'

Alexander said there were 429 clear first favs that were making a return to racing within seven days of the last racetrack appearance. Of these, 130 won, a shade over 30 per cent.

But, he added: 'Already it could be said that everything was beginning to look a little like a lost cause.'

He found that by backing all these favs there was a level stakes loss of some £607 (or around $1200 Australian), using £5 ($10) stakes.

Alexander then split the qualifiers into two groups - handicaps and non-handicaps. Immediately, he reported, 'this much maligned, simple method of segregation showed results which would gladden the heart of any systematic searcher for profit'.

Handicap race favs produced 66 winners from 285 races for a level stakes loss of £565, while favs in the non-handicap races showed 64 winners from 144 races, for a level stakes loss of only £41.

Said Alexander: 'Here the win frequency of the handicap selections is only fractionally above half of what is shown for the non-handicap qualifiers. Even more revealing is the fact that the non-handicap qualifiers have disclosed a loss which is approximately one seventh that of the handicap selections.'

From these figures, Alexander explained, it was 'all stations go for the discovery of an eventual profitable return'.

His next job was to take an even deeper look at the situation. The non-handicap returns were further subdivided according to field size. This showed that in fields up to and including nine runners the favs won 52 from 103 races for a level stakes profit of E18 (around 5 per cent on turnover).

However, the favs in fields of 10 and more showed 78 winners from 326 races but returned a loss of E625 (around $1250).

Look at the strike rate of the favs in the smaller fields - 52 winners from 103 races, or 50.4 per cent, one in two!

Alexander, then, had shown that a terrible level stakes situation in regard to a betting angle could be looked at, trimmed down and reshaped so that a section of the whole would return a decent profit. In this case, not a big one - but at least a profit, as well as the revelation that you could back a winner every other race by following the favs in non-handicap races with fields of nine or less.

Looking through the list of results, I noted there was one losing run of eight - and that was the worst. There were several runs of four successive losers but nothing dramatic at all.

What we now have to do is to see if this sort of performance can be matched here in Australia. Can we, with our racing set-up, separate the handicap and non-handicap races and then make a clear profit of 5 per cent or more from backing the n/h favourites in races where the field comprises nine or fewer runners?

It's a most interesting proposition. I have already spoken to a number of the team at P.P.M. and - surprise, surprise - they were divided in their opinions. Jon Hudson felt there was only a slim chance of breaking even and he predicted a 5 per cent loss at level stakes. Martin Dowling was even more pessimistic. He felt that a big loss would be struck.

I then asked Richard Hartley Jnr for his opinion. Richard is an eternal optimist and he reckons there's a solid chance that the plan could definitely make a decent profit anything from 1 to 10 per cent on turnover.

His suggestion, too, is for rolling place all-ups, an angle we will examine eventually on both the UK and Aussie performances.

NEXT MONTH. We look at the past 12 months for the handicap and non-handicap favs, returning after 7 days or less, in races with 9 or fewer runners.

By Brian Blackwell